Last updated July 4, 2018 at 10:25 am
Drones help show how it has shaped the landscape.
Australia’s Dingo Fence has helped shape the desert around it, according to a new study from the University of NSW.
In areas where dingoes cannot go or are actively culled, sand dunes are taller and have different shapes and roughness properties than on the other side of the fence, researchers have found.
It’s all part of an environmental domino effect caused by the removal of a natural predator. Feral fox and cat populations have flourished, the native populations of herbivores such as hopping mice have subsequently fallen, and native vegetation cover has increased in their absence.
In turn, the increased vegetation has affected the patterns of wind flow and sand movement: locking down the sand and sediment and allowing the wind to flow over the top, creating taller dune peaks.
“It really demonstrates that removing predators triggers trophic cascades that have these far-reaching implications,” said research leader Associate Professor Mike Letnic. “It extends far beyond a simple predator and prey relationship.”
One of the largest man-made structures
Built in the 1800s, the Dingo Fence runs 5600 kilometres from the Darling Downs in Queensland to the South Australian coast just short of the Nullarbor Plain. Designed to keep dingoes away from farm land, it is one of the largest man-made structures in the world.
Letnic, lead author Dr Mitchell Lyons and colleagues have been working on the stretch that crosses the Strzelecki Desert in north-west NSW.
They used drones to film the area from the air then applied mathematical modelling techniques to recreate the desert landscape on both sides of the fence in a detailed 3D reconstruction.
“The great thing about drone imagery is that it is at such a fine scale,” Lyons said. “So now you can accurately measure the density of vegetation, the shape of the dunes from the 3D reconstructions, and then explicitly test their relationship with statistical models.”
The researchers compared the data with historical aerial photos from 1948-1999 to track the environmental change.
Letnic has been studying the dingo population in the region for over a decade and says he could tell that long-term culling of dingoes had triggered something in the desert landscape.
“When you are there, it feels different and it looks different. But it is hard to put your finger on what it is,” he said.
The paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.